All countries in the Asia-Pacific region now rank "internationalisation" high on their economic agendas and see universities as playing a crucial role.
According to Ken McKinnon, former president of the Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee, the countries are eager to foster more movement of staff and students, research links and a freer academic atmosphere.
Speaking at a conference on the internationalisation of higher education, organised by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development in Adelaide, Professor McKinnon said Malaysia had its 2020 Vision, Thailand had placed internationalisation as one of the four key goals of its ministry of university affairs, Singapore had plans and Japan was aiming at enrolling 100,000 foreign students in its universities by the year 2000.
In Australia, the proportion of foreign students on campus had nearly doubled in the past ten years to more than 8 per cent while at some universities international students made up 17 per cent or more of total enrolments.
"Every year there are between 15,000 and 20,000 international students graduating from Australian universities, mostly returning to work in their home countries," Professor McKinnon said.
"Some universities are now dependent on the enrolment of international students for as much as 15 per cent of their total income which, of course, means issues related to the continuance of that flow merit plenty of attention from university administrators."
Professor McKinnon said seven universities now had offshore campuses; had twinning arrangements with Asian institutions; and distance-education universities had enrolled 5,000 students overseas. There were more than 1,000 international research links, 519 research centres with international links and 886 students in Australia on overseas postgraduate research scholarships.
"The philosophical shift towards intellectual cooperation among nations formerly divided by enormous linguistic and cultural differences and traditions of warring relationships with each other going back millennia has been profound," he said.
Universities in the region were developing cooperative curriculum offerings and language problems were being overcome by institutions using English for graduate courses designed to attract foreign students.
Progress had been good, "even outstandingly good in some respects", but that did not mean the problems of internationalisation of curricula had been solved, Professor McKinnon said.
Off-shore campuses, twinning arrangements and distance education providers were part of the debate about the future of internationalisation.
Prospective "cyberspace university offerings" were taking off. The technology was making such rapid strides that the possibility of universal digital access at affordable prices was not fanciful and it was conceivable that within four years millions of people would have access.
But there were implicit threats in "borderless internationalisation for monopolistic university control of higher education," he added.
The supposition that universities had to provide the only worthwhile material was one. If universities retained their monopoly over education standards and credentials for entry to the professions they could retain a gatekeeper role.
"The horizons of possibilities of borderless internationalisation of higher education and knowledge are wider than existing universities. We are entering a new, unchartered world," he said.